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Checking In on Location-focused Social Media Apps

To say that social media applications are hot right now would be a gross understatement. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and (still) MySpace have hundreds of millions of devotees. In February alone, Facebook drew almost 119 million unique visitors who each spent, on average, nearly 6.5 hours on the site. This made them the #3 web brand for the month, behind Google and Yahoo. And compare those numbers to the #4 web brand, MSN/Windows Live/Bing. This Microsoft group had just 3% fewer unique visitors but their time on site was only one hour and forty minutes. So, with almost the same number of eyeballs, Facebook had roughly 9.4 billion more hours of use. That's billion with a "B." [For more Nielsen data on web usage, see this article at]

Using social media applets on smart phones has also taken off. The combination of a phone's mobility and its ability to determine location has spawned a new range of social media applications that make it easy for you to tell all of your friends not only what you're doing but where you are. The first of these apps I remember seeing was Loopt, but Gowalla and especially FourSquare seem to be the market leaders now. FourSquare alone claimed to have more than 500,000 users a week ago and it appears that they've added an additional 100,000 users in the past 10 days, in part due to SXSW check-in mania. Personally, I've found that it is an easy way to interact with my friends and that FourSquare check-ins generate comments.

The recent Napa Valley tweet-up that took place at Robert Mondavi Winery was another great forum for this type of app. Within the venue, check-in stations were provided allowing people to use FourSquare upon arrival. These check-ins developed a lot of visibility for the event and the winery – and jealousy among those of us not able to attend. But they also allowed attendees to find each other when views were obstructed by the crowd and tall stacks of wine barrels. Thea Dwelle has a nice post on Luscious Lushes that goes into more detail about social media usage at the Napa Valley Tweetup. [There's also interesting data on the tweeting at that event posted by Trevr on The Cork Board.]

Many people don't see the attraction of these apps. They don't particularly want people to know where they are and when. Being "mayor" of Joe's Bar & Grill isn't a source of pride for them. GoWalla's awards don't motivate them either. I can see their point, but it's kind of funny seeing comments on places like Facebook and Twitter from people who aren't excited by the location apps, given that there are still so many people who don't "get" Facebook and Twitter.

I wonder what the next step will be for these location-broadcasting apps. What do they need to increase their usage by an order of magnitude? What will happen when Facebook and Twitter enhance their location-centric features and when will that happen? In his March 17 blog entry, Sachin Agarwal predicts that the arrival of a FaceBook location app will virtually crush both GoWalla and FourSquare. Certainly, with the kind of mindshare and eyeshare dominance that Facebook already has, one would have to think Sachin is correct.

Facebook has a massive installed base on smart phones already. Making the app more location-centric is a no-brainer. However, doing so with a great user interface that makes check-ins both extremely easy and fun is less simple. User interface has not been a strength for Facebook to date. Personally, I'd like to them break up their mobile app a little bit. There are so many sections and features in the current app that it can be tedious to use. If all you want to do is check in, it would be great to have a tiny and simple little applet just for that purpose. If they want to add features, it should be features that pertain to checking-in, like adding a photo, rating the experience or saying how long you intend to be at that location.

What are your thoughts on location-based applets? Which ones do you use, if any? What features would you like to see? What would get you to use them more?

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. Banner image is a modification by NorCal Wine of a photo by GeekGirly.

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